(Bloomberg) — The Obama administration is adding crucial
elements to its campaign against climate change this month with
proposals to limit carbon emissions from trucks and aircraft,
two of the heaviest fuel users.
Following earlier rules to boost the mileage of cars and
cut use of coal to make electricity, the initiatives on tractor-trailers and airplanes are key to reaching President Barack Obama’s pledge to cut emissions by 26 percent by 2025,
It also lays the groundwork for United Nations climate
negotiations set to conclude in Paris this December.
“They appear to be moving on all fronts,” said Karl Hausker, who wrote a report for the World Resources Institute on
how the U.S. could achieve the goal. “We’re confident they can
meet it. It’s not easy, but it’s doable.”
In contrast to his first term, when he sidelined climate
concerns in favor of an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy,
Obama now says combating climate change is a top priority.
Setting efficiency rules for automobiles and small trucks, to
raise the average mileage to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, was
the major effort early in his tenure. The Environmental
Protection Agency’s plan to curb emissions from power plants is
the centerpiece of the second-term agenda.
The EPA also is preparing rules to cut methane leaks from
oil and gas drilling, and switch out the use of climate-harming
An analysis by Hausker and four colleagues shows power-plant emissions, which have fallen 15 percent from their 2005
peak, will account for the biggest share of the reductions in
the next decade because of the EPA rules and state renewable
standards. They said EPA’s rules could be tightened further to
achieve additional carbon reductions.
While that’s unlikely because the final rule is scheduled
to come out this summer, the changes for trucks and aircraft are
meaningful, too, and don’t come with the organized industry
resistance that the EPA is facing on its power-plant standard.
Truck and aircraft makers have been working with the
administration on how it can structure its plans.
For trucks, environmental groups are pushing Obama to set
fuel-economy improvements of 40 percent from 2010, a goal they
say is both technologically feasible and long overdue because
tractor-trailers average 6 miles for every gallon of diesel.
That change alone could cut U.S. oil use by 1.4 million barrels
a day and eliminate more than twice the greenhouse gases emitted
by New Jersey each year, according to the Sierra Club.
“They are looking to be as stringent as they can be,”
said Sam Ori, executive director at the University of Chicago’s
Energy Policy Center. “I’m optimistic that they are going to
come close” to the cuts environmental groups say are feasible.
For airplanes, the EPA on Wednesday proposed finding that
carbon emissions from the industry endangers health and the
environment. Along with that proposal, it issued a preliminary
query about how it might make aircraft more fuel efficient. The
administration said it plans to develop its rules in tandem with
international negotiations on this issue.
“They want to send a signal to the rest of the world that
they will do something,” said Dan Becker, director of the Safe
Climate Campaign. International negotiations on aircraft
emissions are scheduled to wrap up next year.
The agency said U.S. planes account for 11 percent of
greenhouse gases from U.S. transportation activity and 29
percent from all aircraft globally. The EPA said a final rule on
aircraft isn’t likely until 2018.
Critics say Obama’s 26 percent pledge, made during United
Nations talks on a global climate-change treaty, can’t be
achieved without Congress mandating larger changes to the U.S.
economy. With Republican control of the House and Senate, and
continued congressional criticism of the EPA’s efforts, any new
climate legislation is unlikely.
“I’m quite confident that they have no way to get there,”
said Jeff Holmstead, an EPA official in the Bush administration
and now an industry lawyer at Bracewell & Giuliani in
Washington. Even with new aircraft and truck rules, “I don’t
think it even gets us close.”
White House officials haven’t laid out exactly how they
plans to achieve the target in 2025, nearly a decade after Obama
leaves office. Much of the hard work of implementing these rules
will fall to his successor, who may not share his fervor for
this issue — and may oppose it altogether.
Obama is putting a focus on the UN negotiations with 190
governments that are scheduled to wrap up in Paris with an
agreement on how each nation will tackle the issue in 2020 and
The U.S. promised to cut greenhouse-gas emissions 26
percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. U.S. emissions
are already down more than 10 percent from 2005, although the
independent Energy Information Administration predicts emissions
will increase, not fall, in the next decade.
The majority of reductions in the EPA’s power-plant rule
comes from replacing coal to generate electricity with natural
gas, made cheap by the fracking boom. Additional reductions must
come from cutting methane leaks in those gas production and
delivery systems, and using refrigerants that don’t rely on
hydrofluorocarbons, according to Hausker’s paper.
Rules on methane and refrigerants could be issued this
summer, said David Doniger, director of the climate program at
the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“It’s the summer of climate action,” he said.
To contact the reporter on this story:
Mark Drajem in Washington at
To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Jon Morgan at